Update: Erica writes that they named her Alaina West!
We’d agreed on Helena called Lainey, but the spelling kept coming up. And the closer I got to my due date, the more it bothered me.
Then Alyssa suggested Alaina. I saw the spelling before, but worried it was too close to Alyssa’s name. But since it was Alyssa making the suggestion, it felt special – and right!
But then it felt like we were leaving out my aunt Helen. West comes from the first syllable of Helen’s surname, so it’s perfect.
We are expecting our first child together, a girl, in a few weeks. Since before we found out we were pregnant, I wanted to name her Helena, nickname Lainey. There are two important women in my life, named Helen and Elaine, so it’s special, but I like that it would still be her own name, not a repeat.
I know that people pronounce Helena different ways, but we are saying it like H+Elaine-uh. I like this because of the Lainey nickname, and also because it’s just how I always thought you said it, at least in the United States. (Though now I’m wondering if I’m wrong?)
But as we get closer, I’m wondering if this is going to be a hassle? At my baby shower, we received cards addressed to Laney and Helaina. And my mom keeps asking me about the spelling. (Not like she’s judging, she just wants to make sure she gets it right!)
Should we name her just Lainey instead? My husband has two teenaged daughters from his previous marriage, and their names are Alyssa and Brianna. They’re long and girly names, and I don’t want our daughter to feel out-of-place with her sisters.
We’re also struggling with a middle name. I thought about Grace originally, because I love the sound and the meaning. But it seems like every other girl has the middle name Grace. So maybe we should keep looking?
Please read on for my response, and leave your thoughtful suggestions in the comments.
Dear Erica –
Congratulations on your new daughter!
Blended families do pose some particular challenges when it comes to naming. But the exact challenges, and the best ways to address them depend very much on individual circumstances. If the kids are close in age, and likely to spend time living together as a family, it seems more important that the names feel like part of one big, harmonious group.
I think your circumstances might be a little different. Assuming Alyssa and Brianna are both at least twelve, then the amount of time they spend doing things together as a family with your daughter might not be significant. But even if that’s not true, I don’t think the mismatch is significant. I can almost hear your husband might rattle off his three girls’ names, rapid-fire. “These are my daughters Alyssa, Brianna, and Lainey.” I wouldn’t raise an eyebrow at all!
With so many years between them, there’s a little more breathing room. I should note that parents who name children together over a long stretch of time often find their style evolving, too – and that’s perfectly fine.
What’s more important, I think, is to ensure that your child’s name doesn’t conflict with her sisters’ names. So Alice is out, as is Bree.
But Helena and Lainey? Both are options that work equally well.
So if there’s no urgency to use Helena to match her sisters’ names, should you use just Lainey?
I can’t tell from your letter if you love Helena and Lainey equally, or if you feel Helena is merely the best way to get to Lainey as a nickname. It sounds like it’s the former, especially since Helena more closely picks up on Helen than Elaine does.
But if that’s not the case, then that’s a point in favor of using just Lainey. If you don’t love the formal name, then it’s fine to skip it in favor of the nickname.
There are a few other formal names you might consider: Magdalena and Delaney both come to mind. But the one that calls to me most strongly? Just Laine. Girls are routinely named Saige and Paige and Sloane. I think Laine fits right in.
To recap: if you love Helena equally much, I’d use it without hesitation, and accept that you’ll sometimes have to spell and explain your daughter’s nickname. If you’re not sold on Helena, then I’d strongly consider the tailored, lovely Laine.
Let’s have a poll, because I think it might be helpful to see how others respond:
Now, on the question of the middle name, though of course, it depends on which first you choose:
If you opt for Lainey, I think Lainey Anneliese, Lainey Marigold, and Lainey Veronica are my favorites, and, of course, Lainey Margaret works nicely, too. In fact, I’m drawn to Lainey Margaret because the classic Margaret balances out the more casual first name.
I do think a bolder middle name, borrowed from a word name, might be a good choice with traditional Helena. But it’s not necessary, and names like Katherine feel rich with potential, too.
But honestly? I’m drawn to Helena Grace. Helena is relatively uncommon – just 600 girls received the name last year! So I’m not sure you need to re-think this too much.
Readers, what would you suggest to Erica? Formal name or not? And middle name suggestions, too, please!
I voted for Helena, but I also think Elaina could work. It is further from Helen but I think it still works as an honor since it is from the same root name, and the nickname spelling would be easier. So I guess just depends how important people getting the spelling right is to you. I also like the suggestion of Ellen, maybe with Ellie as a nickname? I agree with others that huh-LAY-na is the usual American pronunciation of Helena unless maybe you’re in Montana. I like Laine on its own but think it’s too far from Helen.
I live outside of Helena, Montana, and people here hate it when Helena is pronounced like Elaina. However, I don’t necessarily view your pronunciation as wrong considering many people from other places seem to pronounce it that way… I’m a big fan of nickname, and once your baby is born and people know the spelling for sure then it won’t be such a bigh deal. As far as middle names, I love Grace, but if you fear it’s too popular ; what about Gracious, Gracia, or Graceful? Those are a little bolder….
I have a niece named Laine Elizabeth and it is gorgeous on her. She never meets another Laine. It’s beautiful and tailored, feminine and simplistic. It’s my favorite.
C in DC says
I love Helena (huh-LAYN-uh) Grace, especially with the honor names connection. I don’t think it will be much of a challenge with the pronunciation. It’s Elena, with an H in front. I find HELL-uh-na much harder to say. Lainey is a great nn and also works well as a first name.
I think you should stick with Helena/Lainey.
If you’re looking for other middle name options:
This might be a random comment but I plan to honor an Elaine with the name Eliane Same letters, different combination. And it means sun, which I feel surely must be related to the “ light” meaning of the helen and Eleanor’s .
Meg, that’s lovely!
Going against the grain here and voting for just Lainey Grace. It’s spunky and sweet , sounds great with Alyssa and Brianna. Helena nn ‘Lainey’ works but it will be tough to enforce. She would probably either get the full package of Helena or Lena before Lainey.
Erin Beth says
I think Helena Grace is gorgeous! My first instinct would be to pronounce it the way you prefer, but I wouldn’t be sure because there are multiple acceptable pronunciations. I wouldn’t worry about the need to clarify your preferred pronunciation, but it also wouldn’t bother me too much if it were occasionally pronounced differently. If you think this will bother you, that might be something to consider.
Helena (Lainey) Grace sounds fantastic, I think your original instincts are correct.
The more I think about it, the more I agree with Helena Grace. And I think you could pronounce it either way and still derive Lainey as a nickname.
I have only ever heard the HELL en ah pronunciation. You could still honor both Helen and Elaine with the name Delaney Helen. Lainey is a perfect nickname for Delaney and I think it is the ideal choice for the sister of Alyssa and Brianna.
Any of these would be lovely, but how about Adelaine or Eleanor? I think one or the other of those is how I would arrive the nickname Lainey from a more formal name.
I personally prefer the name Laine. It is elegant, distinctive, and unusual, and with a longer middle I think it reaches perfect balance.
Laine Elise (my fav)
I agree with most posters – Helena and Laine/ Lainey are absolutely fine with sisters Alyssa and Brianna.
Helena might get mispronounced or misspelt sometimes, but it’s a traditional/standard spelling. While both HEL-en-uh and he-LAY-nuh are standard spellings, my intuition is that the latter is more common in the US (I’ve always thought of HEL-en-uh as primarily British, with he-LAY-nuh being more common in the Americas and parts of continental Europe).
I agree with Abby that Helena is uncommon enough to handle a fairly common middle name, and Helena Grace is lovely. I think Helena Bell(e), Helena Blythe and Helena Faye are great suggestions, too, and all of those middles could also work well with Lainey.
Some more thoughts for middle names:
June (especially if she’s due this month!)
Erica or Heather might be sweet middles to tie in to your name.
Good luck, and congratulations!
“…both HEL-en-uh and he-LAY-nuh are standard *pronunciations*”
I wouldn’t worry about people spelling Helena incorrectly. If you use the classic spelling and they don’t know it really that is on them. You say that there is a special Elaine in your life so I wonder if her name influenced your family because I doubt many people would spell Helena that way.
I panicked in the hospital because the nurse spelt my son’s name wrong (a new testament standard), literally noone else has ever done that! I’m glad we didn’t change his name as a reflex.
Do you like Helena Mary or Helena Beth?
I’m all for Helena! I think it’s gorgeous, and it’s on my name list as well. I like the idea of pairing Helena with a short, strong name. Here are some suggestions:
Another vote for Helena. The only person I know IRL with this name pronounces it as you’re planning to. I’m sure it’s mispronounced and misspelled occasionally, but it’s a rare name that doesn’t present at least one of those challenges (even if your name seems foolproof!).
Both Helena and Lainey work well with the older sisters. It’s actually kind of nice that the formal names all end in A – a sweet connection with the older two. I also think Grace is a lovely middle name. It’s so popular for a reason! 🙂
Congratulations on your baby!
Firstly, I love that you found a way to honor two special people in one name! Helena is lovely and I think if it as having two pronouciations but, like any other name with multi ways to pronounce, a quick correction here or there should clarify it. My name (Renee) is miss-spelled all the time and it honestly doesn’t bother me. Lainey works on its own too if you decide Helena just doesn’t feel right. I think Helena-Lainey is a great all encompassing choice and not to get too hung up on the baby shower spelling mistakes. 😉
Helena Blythe (means happiness) 🙂
Congrats on your baby girl!!
I love the name Lainey–but it’s a bit too nickname-y on its own for me. It’s nice to have a “grown-up” name to put on your resume.
I think if I were naming a girl with the same namesakes, I’d go with Elena, with the nickname Lainey.
But, my own preferences aside, I absolutely think if you like Helena, you shouldn’t let some spelling/pronunciation woes get you down. It has many variations because it’s so lovely and classic! Most people will figure it out–unless they’re the kind of person who gets everybody’s name wrong! (My name is Rebecca, and people consistently spell it wrong in numerous imaginative ways. I’ve never met a Rebbeca, but I’ve had my name spelled that way multiple times!)
Alana (Ah-lane-ah) says
Love both Helena and Lainey! Totally agree that Elena is a great option but if alternative spellings and pronunciations are a problem that name won’t solve it. This I know from personal experience. Lol.
… and many more!
Agree with Rebecca, go with what you love and just accept that someone somewhere will figure out a way to pronounce/spell it wrong.
Since you are wanting to honor two special people, I def think you should go with Helena and use the Lainey nickname. Or honor them by calling her Elaine Helen, Laine Helen or Lainey Helen.
If you go with Helena, why not use another honor name in the middle? Maybe even your fn, mn or maiden name?
I am going to start this with a little story about myself. I am the oldest of four, the later two being my dad’s from a second marriage. Our names range from my own Arika, my brother Todd, then my dad’s other two Jessica and Cory. The point of me sharing this with you is I think whichever name you pick will work great with her half-sisters Alyssa and Brianna.
As for which name I think you should select, well I personally love the name Helena, but I also love Laine. For the longest time I wanted to use Laine as a middle name should I ever actually have a child. Helena Grace would be an absolutely lovely name for a little girl, even if Grace is a fairly common middle name. I agree with FE that Faith instead of Grace. Helena Faith is amazing.
I like Helena. It may require educating about your preferred pronunciation of Helena and your preferred spelling of Lainey, but that won’t take much time with your circle. The fact that you want to honour a Helen and Elaine, but give her her own name, makes Helena stand out. Bonus is she ‘fits in’ with big sisters (and you! Especially if they’re Ally or Lyssa and Bree! I also love Laine, but I don’t love that it only honours one of the women. The only other option I can think of to honour both is Ellen (not a stretch to Elaine or Helen) but you love Lainey so to me it’s all set! Helena Grace is lovely. I also love Abby’s whimsical suggestions. A cute tie in to her sisters might be Helena Bliss? But maybe her middle name should be all her own! What’s your middle name? Other one-syllable option: Pearl, Clare, Bloom, Jean, Love, Vie, Tate…
My two cents: I agree with Abby on Helena Grace. Grace may be common, but you’re using it as a middle name. Also, it’s true that you will have to spell and pronounce Helena and spell Lainey as well for people. However, if the name(s) is meaningful and special to you, then it’s worth it. I gave my daughter such a name knowing no one would get it. And she did go through a time where it seemed a hassle. Now, as a grown woman, she tells me that she likes her name.
Go with whatever name you like better, as she says. Agree that using a nickname as a name is fine- if that’s what you love. I love Helena, Lainey, laine, and especially Delaney. I have only met 1 Delaney and she was a darling little girl.
I love grace, but everyone has that name. Unless it’s a special meaning I would say choose again.
Jordan P says
I really like Helena. I pronounce it like you but i think many Americans default to the helen-a pronunciation. It sounds like she will be called Lainey 97% of the time so i wouldn’t worry too much about that. I think the confusion is more related to the -le- in Helena suddenly becoming an lai- in her nickname. For that reason i might consider just Laney. Sure the e becomes an a but at least you aren’t also adding another letter.
I do like a formal name Laine with the nickname Lainey too. My daughters mn is Lane (family name so we used that spelling)
Helena Claire came to mind if you decide Grace does work (i do agree, it’s become something of a filler middle name which is a bummer because it’s so lovely)
Helena honours two important women for you AND sounds good with her sister’s names AND you like it AND it has a nickname you like AND you’ve got cards with her name on it even if they’re not spelt correctly. Your spelling and pronunciation is legitimate and established. People will get it wrong from time to time but it’s easily corrected.
Faith is similar in style, sound and meaning to Grace but a little less expected.
My vote is firmly for Helena – can you tell 🙂